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Wasatch County Council considers 0.3% sales tax to fund transit

A High Valley Transit bus waits before departing from Kimball Junction Transit Center to travel to Salt Lake City. The bus belongs to a third-party driving company, which contracts with High Valley to service the 107 route.
A High Valley Transit bus waits before departing from Kimball Junction Transit Center. HVT expanded service into Wasatch County in 2022.

The Wasatch County Council will consider adding a sales tax to support public transit at its next meeting.

High Valley Transit began offering services in Wasatch County in 2022. It includes one bus route, the 106, which runs between Park City and several stops around Heber. Up to six micro-transit vans, much like rideshare apps, offer rides to areas the bus doesn’t cover.

During a meeting in early May, Wasatch County councilmembers expressed concerns about adding a new sales tax to cover High Valley Transit services and asked for other options. Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau followed up May 15 with four viable approaches for the council.

If the county doesn’t want transit to affect the budget, it would have to cut 20% of the existing transit service.

Grabau said this would mean significant operational drawbacks. Micro-transit has a 22-minute wait time. The bus has intermittent hourly service. Both would see longer wait times if the council chose to make cuts. Grabau said if residents have to wait longer for micro-transit, riders might lose confidence in transit as a whole.

“It's difficult to change that level of service up and down on a frequent basis,” he said. “Where the service is relatively new, I think one of the risks is that we send the signal that this is not something we are committing to and that your users should not commit to.”

Identifying short-term funding is another option. Grabau said staff would need to find a revenue source, but transit could maintain the level of service without a new tax. However, it would only be a temporary fix.

The county could also implement a 0.3% sales tax and use it to offset property taxes. Grabau said the advantage of this approach is it would fund current and future transit needs. He said it might be a challenge to close the $600,000 funding gap this year, though. To close the gap, the county would need to adjust the 2024 property tax rate and Grabau hasn’t determined if that’s possible. If the council chooses this option, property taxes would be reduced by 6%, which Grabau said would save the average resident about $15 a year.

Grabau said the county could also implement the 0.3% sales tax and not offset property taxes. This would provide the most rapid service expansion, and some of the funds could be used for public safety and transit services. However, this option has the largest impact on taxpayers.

Grabau recommended the council invest in transit and not reduce service.

“If there’s anything we’ve learned from other ski resort communities in the vicinity, it’s that anything we can do now to prepare ourselves for better transportation infrastructure is going to pay dividends in the future,” he said.

Some councilmembers were in favor of combining two options: funding current services in the short term and adding the sales tax later.

Councilmember Erik Rowland argued that reducing service could compel people who want transit to speak up.

“To me, it’s more responsible that we stick to our budget and send the message, ‘Sorry, we didn’t have the funds to pay for this. We have to reduce it,’” he said. “And if there’s value, then the public has an opportunity to see what it’s like when it’s reduced and what it’s going to take to keep it.”

The council also discussed putting the options on the ballot this year but decided against that route.

Instead, councilmembers passed a motion to consider the 0.3% sales tax increase on the first quarter during the next meeting June 30.

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